Understanding the historical evolution of Jerusalem and Zion
Hatikvah (‘The Hope’) is a Jewish poem describing the deep longing of all Jewish people to return to their land of Zion and their beloved holy city of Jerusalem. The poem was written in 1877 by an Austrian Jew named Naftali Herz Imber. Naftali, who died in New York in 1909, never lived to witness the day when his poem became Israel’s national anthem – nor did he ever get to see the tremendous tears of joy running down the cheeks of Holocaust survivors as they were finally standing on the officially declared soil of the State of Israel in 1948.
While the mention of Jerusalem in Hatikvah is of great significance for the Jewish people who were forced out of their historical land so many times, it is not unusual at all to find Jerusalem mentioned in other Jewish works of art and ancient literature. In the Tanakh alone – Jerusalem is mentioned 669 times, and the Jewish poems, songs, stories, prayers, books, and other works of art dedicated to Jerusalem by Jews are countless. One of the main reasons that the Jewish people are so connected to their land to this day can be found in history – or more specifically, in a history that dates back over 3500 years. Ancient scriptures show that long before Jerusalem became an area of modern dispute in the Middle East – it was a place of profound importance to the Israelite people of Canaan (Today’s Israeli and Palestinian Territories). Despite contemporary claims assigning great historical importance to the city of Jerusalem in Islam, very little evidence has been found to support such arguments. In fact, there is no mention of Jerusalem at all in the Quran. And according to some translations – no real significance has been attached to the city even by the Hadith (another major source of guidance in Islam). It is not to say that the young religion of Islam (only introduced in the 7th Century BC) does not have any links to the holy city at all… perhaps, it is more to outline that every religion is unique in its evolution, geography, timelines, and places of worship. Despite the disagreements between them about who must be seen as the legitimate successor of Prophet Muhammad, and the different directions they chose to follow in the past as a result, both the Sunni and the Shia Muslims of today see the famous Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem only as next in its importance after the Masjid al-Haram (and the Kaaba) in Mecca and the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi Mosque in Medina. Other temples sacred to Islam can be found in Damascus, Hebron, and other locations – many of which, just like Jerusalem, already contained established Jewish, Christian, and polytheist tribal communities long before the arrival of Islam.
Looking at the geographic migration and spread patterns of tribes in ancient times – one can see that sometimes places of worship of one group have been created in locations that were strategically convenient – yet not significant to the group in any other way. And wherever that was the case – any significance that was attached to the location by the group at a later stage could be directly linked to the created temple and communal life established around it – and the longer a group stayed in one location the more significant this location became for that group.
Archeological studies show that the chronology of rule over the land of Israel moved through the following chain:
- 1800-1200 BCE – Canaanite
- 2nd C. BCE (mid) – Egyptians rule over Canaan
- 1200-586 BCE – Israelite and Canaanite
- 722-611 BCE – Assyrian (in the north)
- 586-538 BCE – Babylonian
- 538-322 BCE – Persian
- 332-63 BCE – Hellenist and Hasmonean
- 63 BCE – 324 CE – Roman
- 324 -636 CE – Byzantine
- 636-1099 CE – Muslim
- 1099 – 1291 CE – Crusader
- 1291 – 1517 CE – Mameluke
- 1517 -1918 CE – Ottoman
- 1918 – 1948 CE – British
- 1948 CE – Israel.
Based on these, as well as on anthropological, archeological, geographical, sociological, and other studies – Both Christianity (approx. 2000 years old) and Islam (approx. 1400 years old) came long after Judaism and were greatly inspired by the Jewish customs and beliefs, stories, and traditions – which can explain the many similarities found in the famous scriptures of the three religions. And while all of these changes were taking place in Zion, the holy ancient city of Jerusalem with a history of over 5,021 years, has been destroyed twice, attacked 52 times, captured 44 times, and besieged 23 times – before finally re-uniting for good with its ancient custodians – who, of course, are only happy for the other groups to visit their holy temples and other places of pilgrimage, and enjoy Israel’s bustling tourism and culture.
“If Israelis take an inch of land from Mecca or Medina, I will be the first to oppose them. That’s our land! But if they want their own land back, only a dishonest crook and lying thief would deny them their right of return. Jerusalem is not ours and never was. Period.
– Imam Mohamad Tawhidi
Many cultures evolve with the support and guidance of elders or sages who are believed to possess unique strengths, qualities, or knowledge that are important to the everyday life of the community. The Jewish culture also follows a similar tradition by paying an incredible amount of respect to a group of past spiritual leaders known as the ‘Pious Jews’ or – ‘Tzadikim’ – whose many graves have been visited by Jews for over a millennium and are some of Israel’s most protected and important sites of worship. The location of these sites can be found in Jerusalem, Hebron, Mount Meron, Tiberias, Tzfat, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Amuka, and more.